Burned out interior of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Golden cross at altar untouched by fire.
Last week, the world watched as one of the most famous churches on the planet, the 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, nearly burned to the ground. I’ve seen, in-person, some of the greatest cathedrals of the world: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey; Saint Basil’s in Moscow, Russia; St. Paul’s in London, England; Salisbury Cathedral, in Salisbury, England; the Seville Cathedral, Toledo, Spain; the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, Mexico; St. Peter’s in Rome, Italy; and our own National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. But none compares to what I’ve witnessed in several visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France. Most of all I remember the incomparable stained-glass windows inside, the most beautiful anywhere in the world. Now, Our Lady of Paris, and its iconic spire are gone, collapsed in flames that nearly destroyed the entire structure.
Billionaires and business people all over France have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to repair Notre Dame. And for good reason. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions on the planet. But herein lies a conundrum and more than a little hypocrisy. Though officially a Catholic country, only 5% of Catholics in France attend mass. According to polls, just 27% of French citizens believe in God. Forty percent are atheist. Wikipedia classifies France as “one of the most irreligious countries in the world.” More people in France indulge in occultism and witchcraft than anywhere in Europe. Astrologers outnumber Catholic priests. Clearly the passion for restoring Notre Dame is driven by historical sentiment, not faith.
Like millions of others, I lament this great loss of architecture, art, and religious heritage. But all buildings eventually crumble with time. Speaking to the Jews, who were so proud of their great temple, Christ warned of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. He prophesied in Luke 21:6, “The days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.” Christ did not mourn the crumbling of this great edifice, but rather the tragedy of lives spiritually destroyed because of corrupt religious leaders. Jesus declared that He was the true temple of God, and that his destruction by crucifixion would be followed by his resurrection. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” he said (John 2:19).
I am happy to see the outpouring of sentiment and finances to restore the great church of Notre Dame. I would be happier if an equal amount of resources and money were earmarked for the restoration of faith to the French. Notre Dame was built with wood and stone which couldn’t last forever. Human souls are eternal, and the fires of hell are a far more serious consequence needing spiritual restoration.